Brian Edwards Media

Random thoughts en route – Singapore

singapore-nights3 

I like Singapore. I like the city, I like the people, I even like the steamy heat.   When Lee Kuan Yew was asked to name the greatest invention of the 20th century he nominated air conditioning, and I’ll admit that it’s only the chill relief of stepping into a building or hotel that makes the heat enjoyable.

Our travel agent cut an amazing deal so we’re staying at the Ritz Carlton. Luxury, silence and a wonderful view from our room.  Who can ask for more? 

Singapore is always building. Illuminated cranes etch the night sky, the new casino is set to bleed the locals dry in a few months, but there’s another botanical garden being built with as much enthusiasm and as many investment dollars.

Singaporeans live to eat and shop.  They’re well-catered for. Brilliant food is everywhere and cheap as chips – even the famous Blue Ginger fails to dent the credit card. Orchard Road slides from Armani to Prada to Louis Vuitton. Chinatown is preparing for Chinese New Year, and there is slightly less subtlety – garish reds and golds, accompanied by a joyous sense of expectation. The Year of the Tiger is on the way; good times are coming.

Brian has a love/hate relationship with the city. Everyone’s too happy for his comfort. Gaggles of young people crowd the malls, the waterfront and the restaurants, laughing and chatting with an innocence that belongs in an earlier decade; the already spotless streets are swept nightly by nanny-state machines;  there’s a touch of the British Raj in the discipline and scrupulous politeness. It’s Happy Days, Brave New World, and it makes him uneasy.  Me, I lap up the ease and security of the place, I applaud the pride the people have in their island state – until it slips into jingoism, but that generally belongs in the public sphere, not on the streets where we prowl, eating and shopping with the locals. I try not to think about legal system and its style of justice.

Tomorrow we’re off to Hanoi. I think it’s going to be something of a culture shock!

16 Comments:

  1. I would have thought that the Singaporean attitude to crime and punishment would have made Brian particularly uneasy. I hope neither of you chew gum. But as you say you try not to think about its style of justice.

    I have never been to Singapore other than in transit. I find no pleasure in going to a country where I have to dodge from one air conditioned building to the next (not a problem in Wellington). God only knows what it must have been like to live there in the days of the good old British Empire in full dress.

    I have to admit to unease at its idea of discipline. Against that of course one does not have two girls beating an old man to death with his own walking stick. On balance I think I still prefer to take the risk and live in NZ even with Rodney Hide.

    • I would have thought that the Singaporean attitude to crime and punishment would have made Brian particularly uneasy.

      It does. And someone’s just been sentenced to six strokes of the cane here for breaking a glass in the face of a man he’d never met for no reason anyone could ascertain. Not a first offence. Brutal punishment for a brutal offence, and probably welcomed by a man scarred for life.

      There are no ifs or buts here; you know the odds. Arrival cards state clearly that the penalty for trafficking drugs is death. Locals know the consequences of offending, and it makes this a very safe little place to live. I can’t approve, but I find myself oddly unmoved by the plight of the violent and foolish who ignore the risks for the sake of what? The pleasure of venting a moment of rage? I suspect my morality is of a slightly lower order that that of BE.

  2. You know, that Singapore has been referred to as “Disneyland with the Death Penalty”? Just refer to the appalling cases of Tuong van Nguyen (Australian) and Iwuchuku Amara Tochi (Nigerian). Two very young men (more like boys), whose short lives were “brutally” cut short at the end of a Singaporean rope.

    In the case of Iwuchuku Amara Tochi, even the Hanging Judge conceded that the then-19 year old may not known that he was carrying heroin drug capsules. Tochi’s defence was predicated on the basis: he thought he was carrying medication on behalf of someone. But the judge reckoned he should’ve determined the nature of the “medication” before agreeing to his assignment — so, ignorance was no excuse.

    Singapore can be described as a “dystopia” tightly controlled by a father-and-son regime. Their authoritarianism, being masqueraded as a benign form of PAP Democracy, in Their Island State. The flimsiest of facades, where even the
    judiciary is subordinate to the legislature. The spectre of Lee Kuan Yew hovers over every single institution; government and non-government.

    Yes, Singapore is “safe” and a “nice” place to visit. But it’s also antiseptic.

    • Yes, Singapore is “safe” and a “nice” place to visit. But it’s also antiseptic.

      For once, Merv, Brian would agree with you.

  3. It would be interesting to know whether six strokes of the cane will deter someone who without provocation pushes a glass into someone’s face. I have a similar problem to you. I do not approve of that type of punishment but I cannot find myself feeling any sympathy for the recipient. I recall Sir Humphrey Appleby once being very pleased when told he existed in a moral vacuum. I sometimes feel the same way since I have totally conflicting thoughts on this type of issue.

    Enjoy yourself in Vietnam.

  4. There is an interesting letter in today’s Herald. I was not aware but I gather there is a drive to encourage Singaporeans to move to NZ because they can buy cheap houses and cheap cars. The writeer questioned why any Singaporean in his or her right mind would want to abandon a vibrant and disciplined society for a country like NZ going south at a rapid rate just for a cheap house and car. Interesting thoughts.

  5. “…And someone’s just been sentenced to six strokes of the cane here for breaking a glass in the face of a man he’d never met for no reason anyone could ascertain…”

    It is Singapore, someone probably got the G-23 paxilon hydrochlorate mix wrong that day.

  6. Gee, only the “once”?

  7. Enjoy Hanoi!
    The traffic is intense! That said, I totally loved it – especially the energy of the people.
    I reckon when they really get the hang of capitalism it will be all over for the likes of NZ. These guys work from dawn ’till dusk!

    The Perfume Pagoda trip is definitely worth it!

    • The Perfume Pagoda trip is definitely worth it!

      We’re thinking about it, but it’s pissing down with rain and misty. If the weather clears up, we’ll definitely go. Off now on a tour of the city.

      Question: if you took the horns out of the cars, could they still drive?

  8. Two little experiences:

    I was on a bus tour of historic Singapore, when the tour guide quipped about their parliament : “Sit on their backsides and drink tea all day – I could do that!” The driver then said something to her in Chinese and she looked terrified, apologised, and begged us all to ignore her stupid mistake as that was not what she had meant to say. She was really frightened.

    A photo of an elderly homeless female found living in a public park had been in that morning’s Singapore paper, with the instruction from the police that her family were urged to come and pick her up and look after her in future (no benefits).

    I also got a look at their high school history textbooks, which were incredibly biassed.Talk about history being written by the winners – these were written to keep the government in power.

    Singapore is harsher than even I had expected.

  9. I am sure I recall one Pita Sharples being denied entry to Singapore several years ago simply because he sported a top-knot [instead of the pony-tail he now has].

  10. The legal system and style of justice in Singapore should give everyone reason to think about the balance between what we have here in NZ -where personal responsibility isnt high on the list of many people – compared to that of Singapore, where it is high on the list. I think their response to violence is more productive than ours (several strokes of the cane versus 3 years in jail. We all know jail doesnt work, and the cane seems to work in Singapore) and I do like their attitude to family care. You get higher taxes if you do not look after your parents as they get older – ie: why should everyone else pay – they have their own family to look after.

    Yes – the place may seem a little sterile and enviously you (BE) dont think anyone should be as happy as many of the younger ones seem to be (its not old Ireland BE!)- but its got a lot going for it.

    L.Q Yew obviously thought years ago that the greater good was society – not the individual. Like many great leaders, he felt that if society did well, then those in it would get the rewards – and financially – and in many other respects also – no one could argue that he was wrong.

  11. Two things stand out from our trip to Singapore.
    Leaving the airport was like walking into a sauna.
    We were having a drink at the bar of our hotel and I mentioned the lack of police. Barman indicated two separate casually-dressed men, reading their papers and having a beer. Say no more.
    Love those orchids!

  12. “Like many great leaders, he felt that if society did well, then those in it would get the rewards – and financially – and in many other respects also – no one could argue that he was wrong”.

    No sure about having that: having absolutely no political rights; where freedom of expression is quashed, in favour of total acquiescence to the State’s dictates. Not too sure about that at all.